Never Fall in Love {Sneak Peek}


Chapter 1


Cedar Falls, Finger Lakes Region, NY

“Want your regular?”

The cashier didn’t even look up as a woman about my age approached the counter. 

“Mmhmm,” the customer murmured, looking as if she was about to cry. As someone who cried at sappy commercials, among many other things, I could empathize.

Making a quick decision, I jumped up from my seat.

“I’ve got this,” I said to the woman. “You head to the ladies’ room.”

Although it was an odd offer from a stranger, she didn’t seem to mind. Swallowing hard and giving me a quick nod, she bolted in the direction of, I assumed, the ladies’ room. It was my first time in the place, new to town and all, so I knew very little about the Coffee Cabin or even Cedar Falls itself. Except that, as of last night, it was my new home.

When the cashier looked up—a college kid, from the looks of him—he appeared confused. 

“I’ve got her coffee. And . . .” I didn’t need to look at the pastries again to know what I wanted. “A blueberry crumble muffin.”

Paying for both, I brought them back to my corner seat and went back to people-watching. So far, nothing out of the ordinary. Just a cozy coffeehouse in a town even smaller than the one where I grew up. One I’d be seeing a lot of since my new apartment was just upstairs. 

“Thank you so much,” the woman said when she returned, clearly unsure what to do.

“Join me,” I offered. “Got a muffin top.”

She looked a bit like that actress from the funny movie with Ryan Reynolds. What the heck was the name of it? Ugh, how could someone be so bad at remembering names? 

“You look like someone,” I started, about to explain the movie.

“Emma Stone.”

“That’s it. I guess you get that all the time?”

“I do. But I take it as a compliment, so thank you.”

I would too. Emma Stone, and my companion, were both extremely pretty. Red hair in a long bob, she had a smattering of freckles across her cheeks, just like me. It was rare to meet someone with freckles. We also shared unusually bright eyes, hers green and mine blue. I wondered if it meant anything? Like maybe we were destined to be friends?

“You’re welcome,” I said.

“And thank you for the coffee.”

“My pleasure. Please help yourself to the muffin. It looks too good not to eat.”

“Oh, they’re good, all right. Deadly so. Try some.”

I helped myself and silently agreed. This would be dangerous. I’d have to limit myself to one a week or special occasions or something. Sweet treats were my downfall.

“I appreciate the rescue. Delaney,” she said, offering her hand.

“Pia.” I shook it, smiling.

“Passing through?” she asked.

“Actually, no. I just moved here. I’m renting the apartment upstairs.” I motioned above us. “Got here last night from Oregon.”

“Oh wow. You must be exhausted. Welcome to Cedar Falls.”

“Thanks. So you live here?”

“I do. Born and raised. Although I just came back to town myself after a few-year hiatus.” Delaney took a sip of coffee, looking over the rim sheepishly. “Sorry about the waterworks.”

Clearly, she’d been crying, but I hadn’t planned to mention it.

“No apologies necessary,” I said. “No one is a bigger crier than me. Though I definitely don’t look that good after a cry. More power to you.”

Delaney laughed. “I don’t believe you. The guys in town are going to lose their minds. We haven’t had anyone new to Cedar Falls as pretty as you . . . ever.”

“Stop,” I said, never able to take a compliment well. Id gotten comments on my dark hair and clear blue eyes my whole life. But it wasn’t like I did anything to earn them, so I was never sure what to say. I supposed “thank you” would suffice, but somehow I never managed to say the words.

“Although, fair warning. There are more than a few heartbreakers out there.”

Ahh, so that was the source of the waterworks. “Breakup?”

“Yup. Five months hot and heavy, and boom. Just like that, he goes back to the ex. I feel silly. Five months isn’t very long, I know. But I liked him. A lot. He was a commitment-phobe, and in the worst twist of fate, mutual friends of ours say he’s planning to propose.”

Breaking off a piece of muffin, I prepared to do one of the things I did best. 


“I get it, trust me. Last year I dated a guy for the summer. Knew it wouldn’t last since he was only there for a seasonal job. But the fact that we were never on track for a long-term relationship didn’t seem to matter to me. There was something about him that I connected with, almost from the start. An attraction, of course, but something else I could never quite put my finger on. Getting to know him was one of the easiest and most fun few months of my life.”

“Why do you think that was?”

I’d asked myself that so many times. “I’m not sure, to be honest. We just clicked. Our chemistry was off the charts. I told him things I’d never shared with another living soul, trusting him completely even knowing it was a dangerous thing to do.”

“So what happened?”

The pang in my chest at the thought of having lost a man I’d been convinced would play a role in my life, even though I knew from the beginning such a thing was impossible, never dulled when I thought of him. 

“He left. We tried for a long time just to be friends, which worked for him, but never for me. I know he really liked me, and enjoyed getting to know me too, but only one of us caught feelings. Turns out, it’s really fucking hard to be friends with someone you could envision waking up to every day. Who you’d have given everything to be with.”

“You were willing to move for him?”

“I was. But he wasn’t ready for that kind of commitment. So I know a thing or two about commitment-phobes and do my best to avoid them.” I remembered why I was telling this gut-wrenching story, one that I’d worked for so long to forget. “There were days I questioned everything. How I felt about him, how disappointed I was in myself for taking too long to let go. Aside from losing my grandparents, it was honestly the most difficult period of my life. One I never saw coming.” And finally, my point. “But I eventually got over it. And you will too. I promise.”

Delaney reached across the table, tears in her eyes once again, and smiled in a way that erased any doubt. We weren’t going to be friends. 

We already were.

“Thank you for sharing that with me.”

It should have felt odd to squeeze a stranger’s hand, but it didn’t. I truly believed there were no such things as coincidences, and the two of us were meant to be in this coffeehouse together today.

“My pleasure.”

Letting go of my hand, she took a deep steadying breath. “So tell me how you ended up here in this little corner of the world.”

“Well,” I said, taking a sip of coffee. “I was hired as the new manager of a struggling inn. The owner seems like a great guy who I can’t wait to meet in person on Monday when I start.”

“What’s the name of the inn? Who’s the guy?” Delaney smiled wryly. “Trust me, if it’s in or around Cedar Falls, I’ll know him.”

“Heritage Hill,” I said as a vision of the beautiful, if older-looking inn popped into my head. “The owner’s name is—”

“Thomas Bennett.”

The way she said his name sent a shiver down my back. “What is it?” I asked, knowing without a doubt something was wrong.

“Oh, Pia,” she said, as if feeling really sorry for me. “Thomas Bennett is dead.”


Chapter 2


What does a person do the day after they bury their father?

I wandered from my old bedroom at the inn where I grew up down to the kitchen. Esther, the elderly woman dad had hired a few years ago to cook breakfast when he decided to start marketing Heritage Hill as a B&B, used the second kitchen Dad had added to the expanded part of the inn. This one, in the original house, was used only by my father and me. It was strange to walk into the kitchen without a pot of coffee brewing, courtesy of Dad.

It was even stranger to imagine not seeing my father walk through the door saying, “Mason, get up to the Heather room and see about unsticking the window.”

Just as the coffee began to brew, a different voice filled the room.

“How you doing?” 

Beck had stayed the night, along with a few other of my close friends.

“All right,” I said, reaching into the cabinet for two mugs. “Black, right?”


Only the sound of coffee brewing broke the silence. With someone you’d met in kindergarten, there wasn’t always a need to talk. A few minutes later, Beck already sitting at a stool around the island, I slid my friend a mug and sat across from him.

“How many years has death been a part of my life?” I asked, not really expecting an answer. “But it still doesn’t prepare you.”

“Yeah, but we’re not talking about terrorists or criminals. This is family. Hits different.”

The only close family I had left. “True.”

More silence. Some of those deaths Beck mentioned flashed through my mind. Eight years as an Army Ranger and four with the NYPD still hadn’t prepared me for when I walked into the morgue and saw Dad lying on that cold metal table. 

A fucking heart attack. Sure, he’d eaten his share of unhealthy food, but my father had always been an active guy, like me. Even went to the doctor every year and had gotten a clean bill of health just a few months ago. I only knew that because he’d texted me to get my own ass to the doctor, something I hadn’t done since the medics forced me into their tent on my last tour.

One thing I did know about death, though, was that it came for all of us at some point. Lamenting the fact that he was gone wouldn’t bring him back. And it certainly wouldn’t solve the problem of Heritage Hill.

“What the fuck am I going to do?” I asked, as if Beck would have the answer. 

“I don’t know, man. That’s your call. How many days did you clear the calendar?”

It might be more rundown than when I was a kid, and my father’s lakeside inn certainly made less money than it had in its heyday, but it was late fall in the Finger Lakes. Which meant the inn was at least half full for the rest of the month.

“For the week,” I said. “I should probably clear another.”

“Ya think?”

Opposites in just about every way—Beck’s dirty blond hair to my black, his openness and easygoing personality to my sarcasm and private nature—the only thing we had in common was a sense of humor. And our friendship.

“I think I’m fucked. That’s what I think.”

“How many bereavement days do you get?”


“Hmm. It does seem like you’re a bit fucked.”

I rolled my eyes. “Thanks, bud.”

“No problem.”

Neither of us said anything for a few minutes, and though I wasn’t usually the kind of person to work out a problem out loud, this one wasn’t going to solve itself anytime soon.

“Even if I sell, that’ll take time. Either way, I need someone to run the place in the meantime.”

“If you go back, you mean.”

Our eyes met. He’d said aloud what I’d been thinking. We both knew I was less than thrilled in Manhattan. Though I’d wanted to be a cop since my mom died, city life wasn’t as glamorous as a young kid from Cedar Falls once thought it would be. Sure, there was more to do. Better restaurants. More women. But there was also more crime, fewer cops being hired every year, mandatory overtime, and more bullshit than the army, which is a fucking feat. I’d even explored a position up here in the Finger Lakes, in another town that had an opening in their department, just to get out of the city. 

“Even if there was an opening in CFPD, I could never do both. Law enforcement in New York can’t work anywhere where alcohol is served,” I said, voicing what Beck already knew.

“Right. Which means you’d be playing Papa Bennett in the meantime.”

“So I put in a request for unpaid leave to keep the place up and running until I can sell it?”

“Or don’t go back. Don’t sell.”

The thought had crossed my mind. But I was no innkeeper. That was all Dad. He’d loved this place. Poured his heart and soul into it. 

Now, it was his legacy.

“I don’t know. Leaving the NYPD is one thing. But running the inn? It’s never been my thing.”

“When you were a teenager? No, it wasn’t.” He shrugged. “Who knows? Now that you’ve seen the worst of humanity, maybe it’s time for a change.”

“Quite a fucking change.”

Beck sipped his coffee and said nothing. He’d only laid out what I already knew was a shitty set of options. Problem was, I wasn’t sure what I wanted, and unexpectedly having Heritage Hill fall into my lap complicated matters.

“Either way, I’m gonna need more than five days.”

“For what?”

Parker breezed into the kitchen with his signature mismatched socks the same way he’d breezed into our friend group in college. With a perpetual smile on his face, he was the guy everyone adored. Women. Men. Mothers. (Especially mothers.) Little old ladies.


“To figure out what the hell to do with the inn.”

Parker slapped Beck on the back, looked into his coffee mug, and—apparently deciding there was enough left to make it worth his while—snagged it from him, saying, “Thanks.”

Beck was too good-natured to do anything other than make himself another coffee. If that had been me, I’d have taken it back and told Parker to fuck off.

Although he probably never would have taken it from me in the first place.

“You’re such an asshole,” Beck said to Parker, who ignored him.

“I’ll put in for leave today and figure out the rest later.”

Parker sat on the other side of the island from Beck, who shook his head at our friend.

“I could stick around,” Parker said. “While you’re off. Help out when I can.”

Parker worked in construction, which meant crazy hours. But I still appreciated the offer. “Thanks, but I know how little time you have.”

“I’m staying,” he said, as if he hadn’t heard me. “Moving to number two though.”

Although the guest rooms were named, rooms one through four were in the main house and had always been kept open, reserved for family and friends. Since number two was a lakeview room, I didn’t blame Parker for moving if he was going to stay.

“Are you serious?” I asked.

“Abso-fucking-lutely. Your dad died; you have zero direction in your life.” He shrugged. “You need me.”

“Jesus, Parker.” Beck laughed. “Make the guy feel like shit, will you?” Beck focused back on me. “I’m staying too.”

A bartender, Beck’s life in Cedar Falls was as carefree now as when we were in college. In fact, he basically acted just about the same, despite being an actual adult. This place was about to get spicy with the two of them staying on.

“You guys are nuts.”

“Tell me something I don’t know,” Cole said.

All three of us looked toward the kitchen door. Cole, the fourth member of our lifelong bachelor group, sauntered inside. Unlike the rest of us slobs, he was already dressed, signature dark-rimmed glasses firmly in place. Looking every bit like the history professor he was, Cole also headed toward the coffeepot.

“So what are we up to?” he asked no one in particular, pouring himself a cup of coffee and sitting.

“Mason is having an identity crisis,” Parker said. “So we’re going to stay here until he figures out what to do with his life.”

“Papa Bennett just died, asshole,” Beck said. “Cut the guy some slack.”

“We’re staying, aren’t we?” Parker shot back. “I’m not completely heartless.”

“Staying, as in, living here?” Cole asked, turning to me. “What about your job?”

“He’s taking a leave,” Parker said. Apparently, he was my new spokesperson. I’d always talked a lot less than him and Beck, so the two of them had a habit of jumping in to speak for me. The pair of them loved to hear themselves talk, so it worked out.

“Until he figures out what to do with the inn,” Beck added. 

“Are you thinking of keeping it?” Cole asked me.

“I have no idea what I’m going to do,” I admitted.

“Which is why we’re staying,” Parker said. “You are too.”

“Oh really?” he asked. “And what exactly do you propose I do with my job?”

“Pfft.” Parker made a face. “You like the city about as much as Mason. If he’s leaving, you have no other option.”

“Right,” Cole said, taking off his glasses and polishing them, as if they needed it, with his shirt. “I’ll just quit my job at Columbia despite the fact that I worked like hell to get it a tenure-track position. And come back here, to the metropolis of Cedar Falls, and what? Maybe get a teaching position at the high school? So I can live with you degenerates?”

Parker nodded as if it sounded like a perfectly reasonable plan. “Works for me.”

“You’re ridiculous,” Cole said to him. But then, sobering, he asked me, “How you doing this morning?”

“I’m okay. Just a lot to figure out.”

“I bet. And though I’d love to live at Heritage Hill and recreate our college years, I’m headed back Saturday. But I took the week off.”

That surprised all of us.

“You did?” Parker asked.

“I did.” He looked directly at me instead of Parker. “I knew you’d be staying for a bit. It was as long as I could get off in the middle of the semester but—”

“You didn’t have to do that.”

His answer was automatic. “Of course I did.”

And that was that. No other words were said. None were needed. When we made a pact in college to stay bachelors together for the rest of our lives, it had been only half-jokingly. No four guys had each others’ backs more than us, and this morning proved it. 

These fucking guys were everything. And now that I’d lost my only immediate family member, that wasn’t just an expression. They were literally all I had. 


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